Octane
By Bradley Hasemeyer
on 3.17.14
Photo by Bradley Hasemeyer

The Subaru Impreza WRX (nicknamed “Rex” by loyalists) has a cult following to almost rival the Beatles (smaller and younger, but just as fanatic). New iterations or improvements often make fan clubs and enthusiasts both skeptical and nervous; you can’t mess with perfection, and the Subaru Impreza WRX is pretty close. Around since the early 1990s, the WRX and its higher-performance sister, the WRX STI, were made to take on twisty dirt roads and rally stages with their symmetrical all-wheel-drive and unique turbo boxer engine spooling off a turbo swoosh and providing ear-to-ear grins. In November of last year Subaru debuted the fifth generation 2015 WRX ($26,295) at the LA auto show, and we were quick to and hop in line to see if they’d truly made it better or simply messed up a great thing.

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One of the biggest changes made in 2015 was dropping “Impreza” nomenclature, thus putting the WRX on par with Madonna, Prius and Ziploc. Our favorite hatchback style has also been dropped, sadly. The styling has changed as well, though unfortunately to look less like the sleek concept shown at the 2013 New York auto show and more like a filed-down version of the previous generation: think slightly less attractive, slightly less recognizable, slightly more pumped up Honda Civic. It hasn’t lost those calling card style cues of functional hood scoop, brake vents and planted stance — but with a narrower body, smaller lights and less aggressive front end than the previous generation, the 2015 WRX loses some of the “beautiful ugliness” of previous iterations.

Though the exterior styling ends up a little more muted than previous generations, this “maturing” characteristic is beneficial to the interior design. In the past, the WRX’s inside has always seemed like an afterthought, as if the engineers gave $29k to the engine and AWD and $1k for the rest of the car. No more. The rugged mats, soft dash, grippy flat-bottomed steering wheel, simple console, quality speakers and contrast stitching all provide a nice balance of driving purpose and comfort. The shape of the cabin makes for plenty of headroom for all and legroom for rear occupants and gives excellent visibility through the front and side windows for the driver. These upgrades make it less fan-boyish and a little more mainstream than ever before, but thankfully, as the styling has been toned down the performance has been ratcheted up.

The WRX looks like a mud addict, and, with the help of LA’s recent monsoon, we were all too willing to act as enablers down messy side roads.

Under this skin sits a new small-and-mighty 268 hp 2.0 liter turbo direct-inject boxer engine paired with the option of Subaru’s first six-speed manual gearbox or the Sport Lineartronic CVT; we, of course, opted for the manual for slick-shifting fun. Subaru also improved upon traction and handling with a torque-vectoring system and a stiffer chassis that should make drivers happy, while the rear seat gets an extra 2 inches of legroom that should make passengers happy, too. Oh yeah: there are bigger brakes for more stopping power, which is welcome on tarmac and gravel twisties alike.

The WRX looks like a mud addict, and, with the help of LA’s recent monsoon, we were all too willing to enable it down messy side roads. The push button start brings the turbo boxer engine to life, and the quad exhaust pipes’ rumble at idle, like the “clink, clink, clink” of a roller coaster’s initial climb, brings a certain giddiness for what’s to come. The six-speed manual shifts quickly and smoothly with a “whoosh” between gearshifts that eggs things on with very little turbo lag. The award-winning symmetrical AWD system and the 258 lb-ft of torque coaxed us into adding more speed on the corners, combining with the quick electronic steering and torque vectoring to effortlessly adjust traction for maximal Gs. Unfortunately, the suspension is fixed — the STI will most likely continue to offer an adjustable one — erring on the side of stiff, which can be jolting over freeway expansion joints and rough roads. The sport seats help ease this movement with a nice mixture of firm and comfortable.

With the loss of the hatchback and the less aggressive design cues, the 2015 Subaru WRX has certainly changed, but at around $26,000 (ours was closer to $30,000) it’s still an awesome amateur rallying experience for the everyman. It makes the driver feel as confident as Kate Upton at a local beach hangout. Sure, it’s grown up a little bit, but we can’t all be those 20-somethings who want to go fast; like the WRX, we’ve grown up a bit but we still want to go like hell.

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